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Community, care and love: teaching Black British studies

Sofia Akel

Sofia Akel

4 min read

What responsibility does an educator have in creating, curating and facilitating a space of learning?

This was the first question that I asked when I began crafting my Black Studies module Creativity, Resistance and Joy in the Capital, which sought to make us (Black communities) the protagonists of our own stories. Responsibility, followed by accessibility and authenticity, became the three guiding principles that held me to account.

I had to interrogate what the purpose of an educator is and what an educator, importantly, is not – such as a vessel to facilitate only the awarding of grades. For many students, a classroom may be their gateway to a new exploration of histories, cultures and more. What greater honour than to take people on an exciting learning journey and to watch them grow as independent scholars – learning doesn’t have to be dull!

At the university I was working at in London, Creativity, Resistance and Joy in the Capital was to become the first Black studies module offered to students. Much like the rest of the sector, Black studies is much desired by students but scarcely offered.

This was an opportunity to transform the learning experience, to lean fully into the ameliorative and liberatory potential of education. A curriculum is not apolitical, from the teaching to the very structure of a classroom, conscious decision-making determines how a learning environment looks, feels and is experienced.

Often, Black histories, cultures, voices, perspectives and works are omitted from the wider narrative of what makes British history. Using compulsory education as an example, many students undertake more than a decade of learning without ever reading a book by a Black author or seeing Black people in the curriculum in a meaningful way outside the lens of the transatlantic slave trade.

Meaningful, life changing education cannot thrive without love and care

Love is the foundation of education. But love cannot exist within oppressive power structures. This is most evident in the lecturer-student dynamic, where students are taught to take the lessons of their lecturers verbatim and are not encouraged to be arbiters of their own learning. Instead, students are encouraged to regurgitate, seek good grades and graduate.

So when it came to designing my module, I considered what it meant to really create a community within the classroom – how do I bring us all together in the pursuit of collective knowledge sharing? In real terms, this meant being intentional in creating an environment where not only my students but also myself and guest lecturers could bring their full selves to the room, to be confident and proactive in their learning.

I chose to view my responsibility as an educator as facilitating the collective learning of not only my students but of myself. We would commune weekly in a learning circle, with a semi-structured lesson that allowed room for us to bond and connect as a community of learners. We created a communal learning manifesto, laying the foundation of how we wanted to experience learning together in a way that enabled everyone to have a voice. This included designing our assessments and carving space for continuous reflection and collective healing. We held space for one another, became inspired, laughed, cried and shared. Most importantly, we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable; it was in this zone that some of the greatest and most memorable lessons were taught.

Within the power we hold as educators, lies an opportunity to innovate. From students to lecturers, I call on each of us to be intentional and proactive in our learning and teaching. Students – curiosity and questioning is everything, never be afraid to challenge, to pose new ideas and to bring your own perspectives to the classroom. Lecturers – consider your own learning journey, interrogate your pedagogies and assessments, co-create with students and tune into the liberatory potential of education both inside and outside the classroom. I am evermore grounded in the belief that meaningful, life changing education cannot thrive without love and care. We can be the change.


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